The Nevada Independent

Your state. Your news. Your voice.

The Nevada Independent

Three victims in UNLV shooting were faculty members, officials say

In a public letter, UNLV President Keith Whitfield called Wednesday ‘the most difficult day in the history of our university.’
Jacob Solis
Jacob Solis
Jannelle Calderon
Jannelle Calderon

Three UNLV faculty members have been identified as the victims who died in a shooting on campus Wednesday afternoon. The suspected shooter, who had reportedly applied unsuccessfully for a professor job at UNLV, also died.

The Clark County coroner says 64-year-old Cha Jan “Jerry” Chang, a professor of management information systems at the university’s business school, and 39-year-old Patricia Navarro Velez, an assistant professor in accounting, died of gunshot wounds. 

Chang joined UNLV as an assistant professor in 2001 and then became an associate professor in 2007. Navarro Velez’s research focused on cybersecurity disclosures and assurance, internal control weakness disclosure and data analytics.  

On Friday morning, the Clark County coroner’s office identified the third slain victim as 69-year-old Naoko Takemaru, who was an associate professor of Japanese studies. Takemaru taught all levels of Japanese language, grammar and culture and oversaw the entire Japanese Studies Program at the university.

A fourth victim (a visiting professor at UNLV) who had been upgraded to stable condition on Wednesday had been downgraded with life-threatening injuries as of Thursday, according to Clark County Sheriff Kevin McMahill.

In a letter to the university community published Thursday, UNLV President Keith Whitfield called Wednesday “the most difficult day in the history of our university.” 

“My heart breaks for the families, friends, and loved ones of Dr. Navarro and Dr. Chang, and for all of the victims of this senseless act of violence that has physically and emotionally affected so many,” Whitfield wrote.

Whitfield said during a Friday press conference that in-person final exams originally scheduled for next week will be canceled but commencement for winter graduates is moving forward as scheduled on Dec. 19 and 20. 

“This, in some ways, was a very hard decision because one of the struggles that you have when something like this happens is how much time do you get before you try to do the things that are normal?” he said. “The issue with commencement is that it's the ultimate achievement for our students. It's a major reason why we're all here as faculty and staff — to be able to support and help them to reach those goals.”

In a media conference Thursday afternoon, McMahill confirmed reports identifying the gunman as Anthony Polito, 67, of Henderson. 

McMahill said Polito carried out Wednesday’s shooting with a handgun that was legally purchased in 2022. He was carrying 11 magazines, he added, though he did not say exactly how many rounds were fired. 

Police have yet to identify a clear motive for the shooting, though McMahill also confirmed that Polito — a semiretired professor — had applied for jobs at multiple Southern Nevada higher education institutions and had been repeatedly denied. He also appeared to be struggling financially and maintained a list of faculty at UNLV and Eastern Carolina University, a former employer, that he was “seeking,” though none were among the victims who were shot. 

Police raided a Henderson apartment linked to Polito late Wednesday, in which a document similar to a “last will and testament” was discovered, McMahill said. He added that Polito apparently mailed 22 sealed envelopes to various higher education institutions nationwide, and that at least one of those envelopes contained an unknown white powder. 

McMahill added that Metro believed Polito acted alone and that “we have zero indication of any other suspects at this time.” 

Asked by reporters Thursday if UNLV ought to close its campus to non-students and faculty — as at least one online petition from UNLV students has suggested — Whitfield said his “inclination” was against the idea. Instead, he said he favored other “safety features,” such as additional cameras, though he added administrators would "take a close look at that."

“What I hear from fellow presidents is that they don't feel that closing the campus actually ends up becoming a deterrent when there's an evildoer that wants to get in,” Whitfield said. “And if you have any kind of access to the campus which — we're Las Vegas' university — we have to make sure that we have access for you all to come and go.”

As of Thursday afternoon, all university campus operations remain closed with the exception of the Student Recreation and Wellness Center and Dining Commons. UNLV announced that anyone who needs to access any essential belongings left behind on campus yesterday, except in Beam Hall, can make arrangements at the UNLV Transit Center.

Vehicles that were left on the main campus can be accessed and retrieved via Maryland Parkway.

Sheriff Kevin McMahill said Wednesday that an additional four people were transported to nearby hospitals after suffering panic attacks, and two officers were treated at University Medical Center for minor injuries that McMahill said were sustained while searching for victims.

Updated at 2:58 p.m. on 12/7/23 to add details from a press conference. Updated at 9:21 a.m. on 12/8/23 to add details about the third victim.  Updated again at 5:40 p.m. on 12/8/23 to add information from a press conference.


Featured Videos

7455 Arroyo Crossing Pkwy Suite 220 Las Vegas, NV 89113
Privacy PolicyRSSContactNewslettersSupport our Work
The Nevada Independent is a project of: Nevada News Bureau, Inc. | Federal Tax ID 27-3192716